If your Indonesia travels happen to take you along the coast of Eastern Java south of Malang, you’ll find plenty of snorkeling opportunities and bright beaches. One beach in particular is named after the tiered layers of transcending hues out into the Indian ocean. “Pantai Tiga Warna” or “Three Colors Beach” is located behind the Protected Mangrove and Coral Reef Conservation, located in Sendangbiru Region, Malang – East Java. Managed by the government, it is a great example of conservation efforts balanced with public leisure.
Access to the beach is limited and requires you book a reservation, as well as a guide to go with you to the beach. Having to hire a guide to escort you through parks is a pretty common occurrence here in Indonesia. In our travels, guides have ranged from indifferent to agitated, simply walking us to our site with indifference. They often make their charges feel pressured to leave the site so they can make money with their next customer. However I found the staff of the Mangrove and Coral Reef Conservation area to be not only professional, but extremely friendly and welcoming. Our guide stayed with us on the beach the whole time and only made moves to leave when it was clear our group was ready to leave.
There isn’t a lot of food or drinks sold on the site except for a few instant ramen and other instant goods like soda. Knowing this before hand, our group brought a portable grill, and headed to Pantai Sendang Biru before getting to the beach. This area is part open fish market, and also a place to hire boats to take you around. We bought fresh cumi-cumi (squid) and some kind of fish I unfortunately don’t remember the name of.
As an American, it isn’t very often that I find myself face to face with a full fish in the States. My plates have been inhabited by a clean filet that shows neither bone, scales, nor eyes. I was not prepared for buying the day’s catch, roasting it on a flame and eating it fresh from the grill with my hands. It was definitely an experience that proved how ingrained eating rituals can be. I was puzzled about how to progress. Where are the plates?! Oh dear god there are no forks. What is going on. WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE! I dug in best I could for a first timer settling into the first weeks of my new country. Now I can eat rice and fried tofu with my hands out of a banana leaf like a pro, but this is after much acclimation.
When you first park outside the conservation, you’ll end up in a pretty rocky parking lot. There will be no asphalt for the last few kilometers to the site, so be sure to drive in a car that can handle rough terrain, and is not too low. You’ll park by a sign that reads “Clungup Beach“. You can trek to the entrance, which is actually a gateway to several beaches, Pantai Clungup, Gatra, Savana, Mini, and Watu Pecah. Or hire some motorists who will probably approach you in the parking lot. We opted to get on some motors to the entrance, with all our stuff and paid a few thousand rupiah for each of us. It was pretty cheap compared to the length we would have otherwise walked.
Before you enter, they will count all of your items before going in and when leaving to make sure you don’t litter. This is pretty strict going in, we had to account for every snack, water bottle, piece of equipment we bought for grilling. Anything plastic is especially counted and they will check your packs going out. It is a carry on and carry off beach. If you are missing any wrappers, bottles, plastic ect. then they will fine you. They are strict, but super friendly! I enjoyed seeing a sensible plan for conserving the area, and making it a habitable place for both humans and sea dwellers. Indonesia has a lot of problems with trash, but this was a great compromise.
If you go, your guide will be at the entrance of the mangrove. Ours was an incredibly jovial man who even offered to help carry our bag of cumi-cumi we had with us. It swung too and fro, and I could see the ink from our fresh meat seeping into the small crevices of the bag as we walked. The trail took us in between roots as weathered as my grandmother’s hands. The ground was hard and dry, with a confusing mix of vegetation that looked like it was parched on bottom and well groomed leaves of green atop. It was the first time I’d seen a true mangrove forest.
After 45 minutes of trailing, the path ascended over a hill and out to the beach and our final destination. It was a beautiful morning and we had most of the beach to ourself.
Across is the island you can see Pulau Sempu, an island that is also protected and a nature park. The waters are part of the Indian Ocean. You can see where the beach gets its name from with the clear, green, and blue waters. The dark blue is actually where the coral reef starts. It’s a particularly pristine reef considering many boats are small, light, and never drop anchor. We got our suits on, the GoPro ready, and headed out into the waters to explore. For much of the trip I was the only female in the group out in the sun. Indonesian standards of beauty hold up light skin to the ideal so many of the locals, as well as friends, kept to the shade.
Since this is largely a domestic tourist location, I didn’t come out in my American style swimsuit. I had a thick, synthetic sweatshirt that’s usually reserved for hiking on my back to keep my skin from burning but also to stay conservative. This was hard as a Floridian, and I did manage a bit of time in just my swimsuit after I had swum out from the shore a bit. If you invite an Indonesian to go swimming, they will probably show up in jeans and a t-shirt. That is generally the idea of swim suits here and I was a bit shocked as I saw rolled up denim pant legs upturned in the air as bodies snorkeled under water.
There’s a good amount of wild life to observe from here. The coral isn’t as active as other famous beaches, but given its remote location and conservation efforts, it’s a wonderful place to enjoy for the day. It was never over crowded, and in fact the facilities cap the reservations at no more than 100 people per day. The beach also has a few stands that will rent you snorkeling gear from flippers, masks, to snorkels themselves. If you’re interested in making a reservation, you’ll want to call +62 812-3333-9889 to contact the staff for 3 Warna.
I really enjoyed the hike to and from the beach site. What was incredible to see was how the landscape changed according to the tide. We had to take an alternate path in the afternoon than the one we took in the morning because of the flooding. Flooding is usually an extreme condition, but in mangrove forests it is pretty typical once or twice a day. This also means that plenty of creatures inhabit the land. Our trail was pocketed with hundreds of crab holes, and so perfectly formed it looked as though someone came in with an oversized lawn aerator.
I would encourage anyone to go check out this incredible beach, and the surrounding lands. Some of the other beaches also allow you to camp on site over night. Take advantage of the natural beauty, and know that the money invested in your guide and reservation are going back into the conservation efforts of the land. As you can see, it’s also a great place for taking your camera out. With so many changing landscapes due to the light and the tide, there is plenty of natural wonder to capture.